Standardized Patients, Simulations, and Scenarios: What if I am not a Simulation Expert?

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In the past several Simulation Columns, we explored ways to use standardized patients (SPs) to portray patients and clinicians in adult, geriatric, and pediatric simulations. We also explored using multiple SPs for large-scale disaster drills that require significant coordination from nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners who have extensive experience recruiting, training, and involving SPs in scenario development and implementation. Several readers have written stating that they are far from being simulation experts, yet they would like to use more simulation modalities in their educational offerings.
In response to this input, I interviewed Susan Bindon, DNP, RN-BC, CNE, for this column. Dr. Bindon is an experienced NPD practitioner but someone who is not an expert in simulation. She serves as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing where she teaches and maintains a faculty practice in NPD at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
MEH: Dr. Bindon, please describe how you have used SPs in your setting.
SB: First of all, I admittedly am not an expert in simulation or in using SPs. However, I am involved with a grant-funded project that uses SPs, and I have come to appreciate what SPs can offer. In Maryland, there are grants available that support creative educational projects in academic and hospital settings, among other things. The grant that I am working with involves preparing experienced clinicians to become clinical instructors for undergraduate nursing students.
MEH: This sounds like quite an extensive effort. What are the objectives of the grant?
SB: We are working to prepare these new clinical instructors with the skills they will need to be effective teachers, mentors, and role models. Often, they are excellent clinicians who want to try something new in their careers, yet they need to develop their teaching and communication skills specific to undergraduate students.
MEH: What methods do you use to teach these new clinical instructors, and what are your areas of focus?
SB: We hold 2-day workshops where we provide didactic information on how to be a clinical instructor, what the role entails, what legal responsibilities are associated with the role, how to interact with students, and other foundational information. Much of this is didactic and is done in the morning session. We then introduce the workshop participants to SPs in the afternoon, so they can practice these new skills. We refer to the SPs as “standardized students” since they are not patients.
We give the new clinical instructors basic information on what to expect with their SP encounters. The SPs portray students with common scenarios. For example, students have multiple personal demands on their time outside of their studies. They might be taking care of sick family members or roommates, working several jobs, or facing other challenging stressors. A student may be in the nursing program to fulfill a parent’s wish or expectation, yet they themselves are not highly invested in it. All of these issues can be quite difficult for students and the new clinical instructors to handle.
MEH: How do the new clinical instructors react to this type of experiential learning?
SB: It is very eye-opening to them as many have not encountered student issues before. It is important for them to learn that they need to refrain from labeling students, such as describing them as “too chummy,” “perfectionist,” or “stressed out.” Often, these labels just describe surface behavior, and if the clinical instructors dig deeper, they will uncover what the real issues are that the students are facing. Once uncovered, the SP and instructor can begin to consider alternatives and next steps to resolve the issue.
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